Matchbox Twenty Burns Its Way To The Top

Is matchbox 20 thrilled to be performing at outdoor amphitheaters across the country this summer? You be the judge. ''What we're trying to do is just get through this tour,'' said Rob Thomas, the front man for the Florida quintet. ''This tour, in a way it's for us, and in a way it's to keep the record company happy.''

The record company should be ecstatic by now. matchbox 20's first album, Yourself or Someone Like You, has sold 6 million copies. And after two years of touring, Thomas and his band mates rightly believed that their work was done and that it was time to make another album. But when records cross the 5 million mark these days, labels begin sniffing 10 million, and bands are sent back out on the road.

In matchbox 20's case, it looks like a good idea: The group's show Tuesday at Red Rocks has been sold out for months. ''Of all the problems that we have, being successful is the one that I'm going to complain about the least,'' Thomas said. ''We spent so much time trying to claw our way up to where everyone recognizes who you are and they recognize your music, then you spend another tour giving people the chance to see you live to see whether you're fake or full of s--t or whatever. Now ... people think what they think or they like what they like or they don't like what they don't like, and we're just playing to play. ''It keeps us off the street.''

And that's an improvement over Thomas' plight during his high school years, when he slept on park benches and led the life of a homeless teen. He got his general equivalency diploma, played in cover bands and started to taste success when he started penning his own tunes for a popular regional band called Tabitha's Secret. That band broke up, and Thomas and two of his old band mates went on to form matchbox 20 and enjoy multimillion-sales success.

Once Yourself or Someone Like You started spitting out hit singles (3 a.m., Push, Real World) the jilted players in Tabitha's Secret sued those who went on to fame and fortune, claiming they used old Tabitha's Secret songs. Thomas said they're close to settling the suit. ''We're not tooth and nail anymore,'' he said. ''Nobody really hates anybody anymore. I think it's because it's been going on for so long that everybody has just forgotten what we were all mad about in the first place.''

For Thomas, the homeless life now seems like light-years away, and the singer says he has a good handle on his success. ''There was a period when I was off the map, drinking like a fish and going out every night and looking for the next good time. Because you could, you know: 'Hey, look at me, I'm a rock star,' '' he said. ''Now you start to realize that that's not the way it works. Now I'm really enjoying playing a show, grabbing my fiancee and going to sit on the bus and watching a movie and getting my rest for the next show.''

And he's enjoying the thought of eventually returning to the studio. ''We could record a three-record box set. It's going to be tough to pick the best 12 songs out of the 100 that we have,'' he said.

Critics have been quick to dismiss matchbox 20 as an outfit with a short shelf life. But Thomas isn't fearing the sophomore jinx, in part because he considers the Tabitha's Secret album his first and matchbox 20's Yourself or Someone Like You his second. ''Everyone says that you have your whole life to write your first album, then six months to write your second,'' he said. ''But all of my first songs were in another batch with another band, and we just discarded them. So, to me, as a songwriter, this was my second record anyway. In my head, I'm over the (sophomore jinx). We've got great songs for the second album.''

By Michael Mehle